On Sunday morning, November 3, 1968, the IDF General Staff was presented for the first time with COS Haim Bar Lev's plan for the defense of the Sinai Peninsula. The plan called for the construction of a line of separation along the water line of the Suez Canal to be defended by small outposts, spaced five to six kilometers apart, located along the canal from north to south.
Major General Ariel Sharon reacted negatively to the COS's plan arguing, "The IDF never built its operations around immobile defensive lines because until the Six Day War we didn't have borders that we could defend on a static basis. Israel's military doctrine has been based on offensive strikes that bring the war to the enemy's territory. I believe that the defense of the Sinai should be based on mobile, not immobile forces."
Bar Lev was furious, and led the members of the general staff in ridiculing Sharon and his lone ally, Major General Yisrael Tal, for their criticism of what shortly became known as "The Bar Lev Line." Among the public, the Bar Lev Line was wildly popular. Israel's national muse, Naomi Shemer even composed an ode to it called "Praise for the outpost," which became an overnight sensation.
But Sharon and Tal were right. On Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, the Egyptian army invaded and easily overran the outposts along the water line, killing and capturing the soldiers trapped inside them.
Yet the Egyptian invasion was not needed to see that the Bar Lev Line was a consummate failure as a defensive strategy. Tal pointed this out clearly to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan in a letter dated September 20, 1970, where he explained:
"The outposts have transformed the zone from one empty of Israeli targets, to a zone with static Israeli targets Furthermore, in order to maintain and defend these positions we are forced to carry out routine activities above and beyond our regular fighting duties, and so the support units vehicles and people, mainly civilians are exposed to enemy fire. From January to June 1970, the Sinai division's casualty count is 498 among them 69 dead, 49 were killed, and 200 were wounded inside the outposts themselves."
This Wednesday, the security cabinet mutely approved the decision to build the first 116 km. of the planned 360-km. wall of separation a few kilometers east of the Green line. That is, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has just led the Israeli government to agree to a plan that will base Israel's defenses on a static line along an indefensible border.
Even more ominous than the Bar Lev Line, which at least had the advantage of being removed from civilian population centers by hundreds of kilometers of desert, the static defense line approved on Wednesday is to be located in the midst of crowded civilian centers. Worse still, it will physically, psychologically and diplomatically separate tens of thousands of Israelis from the rest of the country.
Israel already has experience with unilateral separation from the Palestinians. After the Oslo accord was signed, OC Central Command Ilan Biran introduced the notion of the bypass roads to our collective consciousness. Biran realized that in spite of the fact that Israel was to be at peace with the Palestinians, forcing Israelis to continue to drive through areas transferred to Arafat's military control would be tantamount to signing their death warrants.
But the success of the bypass road defensive strategy is dubious at best. With well over a hundred Israelis killed by terrorists on the bypass roads, it could be reasonably argued that far from providing real security, these roads simply disguise and transport the danger from the Palestinian cities to the roads.
Proponents of the wall argue that a physical barrier between the Palestinian towns and Israeli population centers will deter attacks. After every massacre within the Green line, even before the body count is known, wizened television anchors and military experts ruminate knowingly that the attack was caused because of "breaches in the seam line." This ignores the fact that fences have already proven ineffective in thwarting attacks.
In the north Israel has spent hundreds of millions of shekels building an electronic fence along the international border. This fence did not stop Hizbullah from kidnapping our soldiers. Nor did it stop Hizbullah from constructing a bow shaped ladder that easily traversed the fence, enabling their terrorists to enter Israel and mow down six Israelis on March 12 by Shlomi. It will certainly not present any obstacle to the Hizbullah lobbing its 10,000 Iranian rockets onto the Haifa Bay.
The only way for a fence to prevent incursions by individual terrorists is by placing thousands of soldiers on continuous patrols along the fence – thus canceling the need for the fence. The only way to prevent rocket attacks is to control the enemy's territory.
Separation proponents also argue that since most of the attacks inside the Green line come from the West Bank which has no wall, rather than from Gaza which does, the wall around Gaza is a deterrent. This argument ignores the fact that contrary to popular belief, the front in Gaza is actually more violent than the West Bank. According to the IDF Spokesman, from September 29, 2000 until August 12, 2002, there were 6,883 terrorist attacks in Gaza and 6,543 attacks in the West Bank. The Palestinians have utilized frogmen, tunnels and mortars to breach the fence, and they are currently developing gliders to fly over it.
Dr. Martin Sherman of Tel-Aviv University and the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya decries the separation wall as a "strategic disaster at every possible level."
"The entire coastal plane is exposed from the heights of Judea and Samaria. A mortar, missile or rocket attack on the coastal road at rush hour would be catastrophic. If we needed a security zone in South Lebanon to defend our settlements in the north, how do we intend, from the Green line to defend Ramat Hasharon and Kfar Saba?"
Sherman further notes that there has also been no debate over how Israel will prevent the wall from becoming a de facto border which will make the international community even more unwilling to accept preventive or punitive IDF actions against Palestinian terrorists on the other side.
Then, too, no one has asked the question, what possible control could Israel exert on the Palestinians on the other side of the wall to change their behavior? What possible impetus will the new PLO-Hamas unity government have to stop fighting for the dismantlement of the Jewish state when, as a result of their behavior, Israel meekly walls itself in to its indefensible pre-Six Day War borders as General Ariel Sharon argued in 1968 that Israel would never have contemplated doing?
Indeed, at the heart of the separation campaign is an unwillingness to contend with the simple fact that it is the Palestinians who are to be blamed for all the attacks and not the absence of a wall.
The way to protect Israelis is not by building bypass roads and fences but by preventing the enemy from attacking in the first place. That, as Ariel Sharon as head of the 101st battalion in the 1950s knew full well, can only be done by attacking the enemy on his own territory.
Internal Security Minister Uzi landau takes a wider view of things. He sees the possibilities of the wall as something beyond fighting terrorism, which he agrees, "can only be accomplished with IDF forces on both sides of the fence."
In his view, the primary function of the wall "is to prevent the tens of thousands of Palestinians who cross the Green line everyday from continuing to do so." This he admits, has little to do with stopping suicide bombers, which he does not believe the wall will be able to accomplish. Rather he sees it as a way to stem the tide of Pale
stinians who enter illegally, marry, start families and thus work to upset Israel's Jewish majority.
Landau says that he does not know where Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer's separation plan is aiming at, but voted for the plan because he sees its benefit in stemming the illegal immigration. Landau is also of the opinion that regardless of what Ben-Eliezer's motives may be, the reality of Palestinian terrorism will make any withdrawal plans the Labor leader may have impossible to implement.
For opponents of the wall, Landau's arguments provide little comfort. Building the wall, in Sherman's view "is another example of the abject failure of the nationalist camp to educate the public about the nature of our struggle."
"Rather than telling the nation the simple, but bitter truth, that the Palestinians are waging war not to win their self-determination, but rather to destroy Jewish self-determination, the nationalist camp enables the Oslophiles to carp about the need for a political solution that is impossible to achieve. By not fighting and winning the battle over the domestic consciousness," Sherman adds, "Israel has over the past thirty years whittled away its options both militarily and diplomatically to the point where it becomes inevitable that we hide behind the delusion of the defense of a wall across an indefensible border."
Back in 1968, the debate over the efficacy of the Bar Lev Line lasted for one day. Today, in the midst of a war, with no real public discussion, no debate within the government or the IDF, Israel is repeating its mistake. Proponents of the wall see it as the first step in Israel's complete pullout to the indefensible pre-Six Day War borders. Opponents of the concept of unilateral separation within the government go along with the plan, seeing in it certain tactical benefits and convinced that the Palestinians themselves will deprive the Labor party of the ability to withdraw from the West Bank.
In the midst of all of this is the public who our leaders have misled into believing that an expensive wall, that has little prospect of reducing the terrorist threat to our lives, is really a panacea. The question is, where will Israel be, and how many more Israelis will die by the time the Palestinians prove this point to us, and what will we delude ourselves into believing then?
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post